...Reading through the various "Environmental Law and
Litigation" articles excellently written by your staff,
I'm increasingly frustrated by the universal failure throughout
the industry to recognize a very serious flaw at the root
of environmental site assessments/cleanups and it is one
that has serious consequences for all involved, particularly site
owners who end up footing the bill. Every site cleanup is fundamentally based on
the results of lab analysis of the soil and groundwater. The
consultant prepares a sampling plan, drills the site and sends
his/her environmental samples to the lab, receives a certificate of
analysis and the report is written based on these results. If a
cleanup is deemed necessary (based on these results), it includes
on-going lab tests and a final report is issued declaring the site
"clean", all based on the results from the lab. Any
inquiry to the lab about the validity of the results is met with
reassurances that proper quality control procedures were used along
with MOECC-approved methodologies and these can be seen in the
umpteen pages of data included in the lab report following the page
with the results. Any inquiry to the consultant about the validity
of the results will simply be referred back to the lab along with
the assurance that the lab is accredited by CALA. Thus, the flaw
Any inquiry to an analytical chemist trained in sampling
statistics would quickly reveal that while the lab procedures are
excellent, the lab result may be meaningless because the size of
sample being analysed is far too small to represent the site's
condition. You simply cannot make the 2 or 3 grams of soil analysed
at the lab represent the many millions of grams at the site but
this is precisely what we are forced to do on a daily basis under
O. Reg 153/04. The problem is not so serious in those areas of a
site that are heavily loaded with contaminants but it gets very
tricky trying to decide where the contamination runs out as the
levels start to approach the very low allowable limits. Actually,
it's not tricky, its impossible. I'm very uneasy about my
reports that are meant to reassure everyone that a site is
"clean" (or "dirty") when I have no idea
whether the sample sent to the lab has any relation to the actual
site conditions. The solution would be to analyse much larger
samples or a vastly greater number of small samples but neither of
these is practical so I'm stuck with my fingers crossed hoping
no one will later re-examine my sites and find more contaminant in
one of their small samples. That will likely lead to a call from
I am now including an explanation in my reports regarding
"Data Quality Objectives" which clearly explains the
uncertainties involved (attached) but I'm not sure what legal
ramifications this creates.
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